As one of the world’s, and indeed America’s largest sea cave, and the only known mainland home of wild Steller sea lions in the world, the Oregon Coast’s Sea Lion Caves near Florence, Oregon, is a must-see.
Visiting Sea Lion Caves, near Florence on the Oregon Coast, will make for a memorable trip for everyone in the family! And it’s only 11 miles north of River House Inn.
The fall and winter seasons may be the best time to visit the Sea Lion caves as barking Steller sea lions, and some of their California seal friends, lounge inside the cave’s natural 12-story underground amphitheater. During the spring and summer, sea lions breed and typically stay on the rocks outside the caves.
Since 1932, Sea Lion Caves has been a privately-owned wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary. It’s not a zoo. From the visitor’s center, you will enjoy expansive ocean views where visitors often see gray and humpback whales, orca, and dolphins at different times of the year. There are more than a dozen kinds of birds that make the area home. From the visitor’s center at the top of the cliff, it’s just a short outdoor walk to the elevator that takes you 208 feet down through solid rock and into the sea lion’s cathedral.
There is plenty of free parking and admission ranges from $8 for kids (age five to 12) to $14 for adults.
While the Sea Lion Caves may be the main attraction for your trip, there are many other reasons why visiting the Oregon Coast in the fall and winter is a great idea.
The changing season
If you are traveling to the Sea Lion Caves anytime between September to November from Eugene or Corvallis, you will see dramatic fall leaves floating to the ground in shades of red, orange, and yellow. Though your destination is exciting, the beauty of a road trip during fall in Oregon is just as stimulating.
Cooler weather and warm oceans
By the time September comes around, the sea is at its warmest, thanks to the summer sun. The warmth makes it perfect for wading and splashing around. You probably won’t want to go swimming, but a walk along the waterline with your shoes off will be delightful.
By late-October, the weather can be a stark contrast compared to inland towns. There’s often fog on the coast, especially in the morning. There is something particularly mystical about the dense fog and moaning winds on the Oregon Coast during this time. What a better way to enjoy your trip by adding the whimsical weather to the calls of sea lions?
The salmon are running
Salmon’s movements are one fall tradition that’s as consistent as the change in weather. If you’re out admiring the colors of the leaves and the crisp nip in the air, know that you may as well bring your fishing pole. You could also be enjoying a gorgeous salmon at the end of your line as it attempts to travel further inland to lay eggs. Check our guide to fishing in and around Florence here!
Awesome wave watching
You can view rough seas and incredible pounding waves along the coastline at any of the pullouts along Highway 101. The more dramatic displays of the ocean’s power are in Depoe Bay, Yachats, Thor’s Well at Cape Perpetua, Newport’s Yaquina Head, and Cape Foulweather or the rocky spots around Cannon Beach’s Ecola State Park—all within a beautiful drive of our front door. Mid- to late-December is when storm watching season really gets going, but you can often begin to catch them in late November.
What’s more? Yachats and Thor’s Well are both a short 15-20-minute drive away from the caves! You can get your sea lion fix and enjoy the monstrous waves.
Cities along the Oregon Coast are filling up their calendars with special events to keep the visitors coming. Plan your trip to the caves around an event that catches your eye! Some of the major events include:
- Florence Winter Music Festival (3 days, 9 excellent acts of bluegrass, Americana, and folk)
- The Florence Cookie, Cocoa, and Cider Trail
- Shore Acre’s Christmas lights
- Newport’s Lighted Boat Parade
- Depoe Bay’s Christmas Tree Lighting
Another great reason to head to the Oregon Coast in the fall and winter, in addition to seeing the Sea Lion Caves in all its glory, is the opportunity to see the permanent resident populations of birds. Bald eagles, black oystercatchers, and migratory bird populations of Western meadowlarks and mountain bluebirds take to the sky. You can even see some birds from the sea lion caves! And of course, you can always see them at the marine sanctuaries such as Yaquina Head, home to one of the largest common murre colonies on the Oregon Coast.
Winter weather surprises
Don’t be surprised by the weather in November and December. It’s not unlikely to find a decent amount of mild, even beautiful days. Keep an eye on the weather reports – and don’t assume it’s always cold and dreary on the coast. The coastal locals know that the weather is almost always a lot nicer in Florence than the TV meteorologists in the Willamette Valley say it will be.
The River House Inn is a perfect choice to use as a home base as you travel up and down the Oregon Coast. See all the beautiful fall and winter sights and to enjoy the lineup of events. Sea Lion Caves is approximately 11 miles north along Highway 101. Book a room at the River House Inn directly through our website or front desk (call 888-824-2454) to save money and to get the best, most accurate availability of rooms.